The Evening Blues - 8-7-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features soul and gospel singer Aretha Franklin. Enjoy!
Aretha Franklin & Duane Allman - The Weight
"If man does find the solution for world peace it will be the most revolutionary reversal of his record we have ever known."
-- George C. Marshall
News and Opinion
Donald Trump is back at war with the European Union, tweeting Tuesday that “anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States.” The warning came hours after EU lawmakers signaled their intent to defy the U.S. sanctions against Tehran that came into effect at midnight.
“I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!” Trump added.
Even harsher sanctions related to oil exports are scheduled to hit Iran later this year. “These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level,” Trump tweeted. ...
Trump appears to believe only economic sanctions will force Iran to change its behavior. He warned Tehran Monday that it must “either change its threatening, destabilizing behavior and reintegrate with the global economy or continue down a path of economic isolation.” Trump said he remains open to a more comprehensive deal “that addresses the full range of the regime's malign activities, including its ballistic missile programme and its support for terrorism.”
Just last month, Trump and the EU narrowly avoided a trade war, agreeing to hold talks on increasing trade between the two regions. But Trump’s Iran sanctions could reopen that simmering feud.
A Saudi Arabian organisation has apologised for tweeting a digitally-altered image that showed a plane flying towards Toronto’s CN Tower – in an apparent reference to a 9/11-style attack – amid an escalating row over Canada’s call for the release of detained human rights activists in the kingdom. Infographic KSA, a pro-government Saudi Twitter account, shared the image on Monday, hours after Riyadh announced it had expelled the Canadian ambassador and suspended new trade and investment with Ottawa. ...
The image, which showed an Air Canada plane aimed at Toronto’s skyline, attracted criticism soon after it was posted. Some saw the image as a veiled reference to the 9/11 attacks on the US, in which 2,996 people were killed after 19 hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center’s twin towers and the Pentagon. Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi nationals. Captions on the image spoke of “sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong”, while another warned: “He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.” ...
The post comes during a high-profile spat that began when Global Affairs Canada expressed its “grave concern” over the imprisonment of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia. ... On Sunday, the Saudi foreign ministry said it had given the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own ambassador to Canada. The country’s education ministry is reportedly looking to move thousands of Saudi scholarship students out of Canadian schools, while Saudi Arabia’s state airline said it would suspend flights to and from Toronto.
Saudi Arabia often takes the most criticism for Yemen's crisis, in light of its devastating bombing campaign. But the United Arab Emirates is attracting increasing scrutiny for actions that are tantamount to war crimes in the country. Since the Saudi-led coalition launched its war in Yemen in March 2015, the UAE has been a key player. Yet, while Riyadh's goal has been to restore President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power and crush the Houthi uprising, Abu Dhabi has focused more on the south, training security forces to secure its own geopolitical ambitions. The UAE's long-term goals have become increasingly clear: to divide Yemen and create a friendly southern state, which would secure trade routes through the port of Aden to the rest of the world; to exploit Yemen’s natural resources; and to empower itself as a regional hegemon.
To justify its presence in Yemen, the Emirati regime is fixated on presenting itself as a force for stability. It often highlights charitable donations of humanitarian aid to the country, while dismissing reports of its role in unlawful detention practices as "fake news". Despite this benevolent guise, evidence shows the UAE is not a force for good in Yemen. Human rights groups have cited torture and other abuses within UAE-backed prisons in southern Yemen, and the Associated Press last month reported on the use of sexual assault "to brutalise and break inmates". Amnesty International has also chronicled the practice of forced disappearance. ...
The UAE's support for southern independence has failed to create any kind of unity, as Abu Dhabi has backed different groups, such as the Hadrami Elite Forces, which want an independent Hadramaut rather than a unified southern Yemen and have committed abuses such as arbitrary detentions. The UAE's rift with Saudi Arabia has also been problematic. Riyadh has supported Islah, Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood branch, as a stable ally on the ground. But the UAE opposes the Brotherhood, instead backing militants who maintain non-hostile relations with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - which it is supposed to be fighting - to counteract Islah, researcher Helen Lackner notes in her book Yemen in Crisis. As such, the UAE is in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
While some observers argue that southern secession is a preferable option, the UAE's strategy involves far too large a human cost - and any UAE-friendly government would only benefit the Emiratis, rather than the people of Yemen. It is hypocritical for the UAE to criticise the Houthis for their divisiveness and failure to move towards peace, while it does the same.
Some of the world’s largest companies have benefited from a little-known law that lets the Defense Department override decisions barring contractors accused or convicted of bribery, fraud, theft, and other crimes from doing business with the government.
International Business Machines Corp., Boeing Co., BP Plc, and several other contractors have received special dispensation to fulfill multimillion-dollar government contracts through “compelling reason determinations.” That process allows the Defense Department in rare cases to determine that the need to fulfill certain contracts justifies doing business with companies that have been suspended from government work. The 22 determinations were released by the General Services Administration at the request of Bloomberg Government, allowing for the first collective examination of the cases and the system that allowed them.
The determinations, also referred to as waivers or overrides, included contracts to provide food services for Defense Department personnel at an Army base in Afghanistan, “vital” web-hosting services for an agency that serves the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community, and aviation fuel sold to the Defense Logistics Agency. In some instances, contracting officials said the overrides were matters of life or death. Companies receiving waivers included some accused or convicted of major fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, ethical bidding violations, and in the case of fuel-seller BP, an overall “lack of business integrity.” ...
The law requires officials issuing such waivers to notify the GSA so the agency can maintain the notices on a “publicly accessible website to the maximum extent practicable.” Pentagon officials sometimes have not followed that requirement until scolded by the Government Accountability Office—and on occasion even that hasn’t been enough. Details surrounding four waivers by the Army and another four by the Air Force dating back more than 14 years still haven’t been provided to GSA. “The law is not being properly enforced, and there’s a definite lack of transparency,” Neil Gordon, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington ethics watchdog group, told Bloomberg Government. “These are risky companies accused of serious crimes. It’s a real problem.”
Here's an excerpt from an interview with journalist/filmmaker John Pilger about Julian Assange. It's worth a read.
DB: John, what is the latest we know about how Julian Assange is being treated and his current state?
John Pilger: His state of health is just about the same, as I understand it. He needs medical attention, the kind of treatment you get only in a hospital. But it has been made clear to him that if he attempts to go to a hospital he will not be given free passage and he will be arrested. Since he was arrested in 2010, Assange has not been charged with a single crime. His treatment amounts to the most unprecedented persecution. Julian could leave the embassy if his own government, the government of his homeland, Australia, applied legitimate diplomatic pressure on behalf of its citizen. We must ask ourselves why this hasn’t happened.
My own feeling is that there is a great deal of collusion between the Australian, the British and the US governments–meant to close down WikiLeaks completely and/or deliver Julian Assange to the Americans. Recently the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, traveled with senior officials to London and to Washington and raised the whole matter of Julian. But they raised it in a way that didn’t support the idea that a government should represent its citizens. These people listened to the more powerful governments. In Washington they met Mr. Pompeo, who refused to discuss Assange altogether. I think there is collusion which amounts to an attempt to try to do a deal with Assange whereby he might be allowed free passage of return to Australia if he shuts down WikiLeaks. I think that is very, very likely.
As I understand Julian, this is something he would not even contemplate. But that might be one of the so-called “wretched deals” that are being offered Assange. Some very strange things are being said by senior members of these two governments. The new foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Hunt, said sarcastically that the British police would offer Julian “a warm welcome” when he came out, when he would face serious charges. There are no serious charges. He hasn’t been charged with anything.
Was Hunt referring to a deal which has already been done with the United States on extradition? I don’t know. But this is the milieu of machination around someone who has the right of natural justice concerning his freedom. Putting aside freedom of speech, the persecution of this man has been something that should horrify all free-thinking people. If it doesn’t horrify us, then we have surrendered something very valuable.
In a tweet and television interview, Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno has declared he will “take measures” against WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange unless he stops “intervening” in the politics and affairs of countries. Moreno’s tweet yesterday stated: “To Mr. Assange we have put a condition: That he stop intervening in politics and self-determination of the country. Otherwise, measures will be taken.” These “measures” can only mean forcing Assange out of Ecuador’s London embassy, to be immediately arrested by the British police and imprisoned, pending extradition proceedings by the Trump administration.
Moreno’s talk about Assange “intervening” in the politics of other countries is absurd. The journalist has been totally gagged by the Ecuadorian government: he has been denied all visitors and has had his internet access blocked by electronic jammers. To talk about Assange “intervening” in the politics of other governments under these conditions is nothing but a cynical attempt to create a pretext for handing him over to the notorious war criminals in Washington and London. These measures are aimed at denying basic political free speech to Assange and WikiLeaks, the best-known site in the world for exposing the war crimes, coup plots and mass surveillance of the US government and its allies. ...
The Ecuadorian president, who is desperately seeking close relations with Washington and US investment, seems to be trying to condition public opinion in Ecuador and internationally for Assange’s imminent eviction from the embassy. ... These comments follow Moreno’s explicit statement last week that his government was willing to hand over Assange to Britain to be extradited to the US, provided only that the authorities in Washington offered what would be a worthless promise not to assassinate Assange or seek the death penalty against him.
The FBI doesn't want the public to know more about how its agents pose as journalists during undercover investigations. But, in a federal court case, Justice Department lawyers confirmed the most significant criticism of the controversial practice. The government acknowledged in a court filing that FBI agents who pretend to be journalists create a chilling effect, making it harder for real journalists to gain trust and cooperation from sources. The astonishing admission came as the FBI attempted to fend off litigation from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has filed requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Reporters Committee’s litigation involves documents related to an FBI undercover operation in which agents posed as documentary filmmakers from a fake company called Longbow Productions to investigate Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters. In response to the Reporters Committee’s records request, the FBI issued a Glomar response — in which the agency neither confirms nor denies that it possesses records relevant to the FOIA request.
In a motion filed July 23, Assistant U.S. Attorney Johnny H. Walker argued that providing FBI documents about the Bundy investigation and others in which a journalistic cover may have been used would not only disclose sensitive investigative techniques but also — in recognition of the chilling effect — “would allow criminals to judge whether they should completely avoid any contacts with documentary film crews, rendering the investigative technique ineffective.” ...
“By admitting that FBI impersonation of documentary filmmakers makes individuals less likely to speak to documentary filmmakers, the government is highlighting the very reason the Reporters Committee filed this FOIA case: the chilling effect this government practice has on journalism,” said Katie Townsend, the Reporters Committee’s legal director. “The public already knows that the FBI engages in this practice; the FBI’s widely reported ‘Longbow Productions’ front is the prime example. The public is entitled to understand how frequently, and under what circumstances, the FBI does it.” ...
“Impersonation of journalists and filmmakers is not, in our view, an appropriate law enforcement tactic,” said Townsend of the Reporters Committee. “When FBI agents masquerade as journalists, it threatens the independence and credibility of actual journalists; it can also jeopardize their safety. If a source believes that a journalist is actually a government agent, they may be unwilling to speak to that journalist at all. And in some cases, a journalist or filmmaker might be in danger if a source believes she or he is a law enforcement agent pretending to be a journalist.”
For someone running for Senate in Washington, Joey Gibson spends a lot of time out of state. Despite his candidacy, Gibson is best known as the founder of Patriot Prayer, a conservative group which publicly disavows racism but has a record for throwing rallies that attract violent white supremacists. And over the last few months, his group has made regular appearances in Portland, a liberal enclave that they claim needs to be “cleansed.”
His strategy appears to focus more on creating moments that will make leftists look violent — and himself look like a victim. ... VICE News went to the source to see how street protests are spiraling into an online PR war.
Berkeley police have arrested more than a dozen anti-fascist activists and posted their names and photos on Twitter, raising concerns that the department was encouraging harassment and abuse. Law enforcement’s unusual decision to immediately publicize the personal information and faces of arrested leftwing demonstrators on social media has sparked intense backlash. Critics have accused police of aiding the far right and endangering counter-protesters with “public shaming” and targeted arrests for alleged minor offenses.
The California police agency said it had arrested 20 people on Sunday at an “alt-right” rally, citing many of them for “possession of a banned weapon” or “working with others to commit a crime”. Most, if not all, of the people arrested were counter protesters, according to lawyers and activists working with demonstrators. The department posted many of their names, photos and cities of residence on its official Twitter account on Sunday before anyone was formally charged. As of early Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the local district attorney told the Guardian that Berkeley police had not yet brought the cases to prosecutors for consideration.
“This is very disturbing,” said Veena Dubal, a University of California law professor and former Berkeley police review commissioner. “It seems like a public-shaming exercise, which is not the role of the police department ... They are making it really accessible for folks who might wish these people harm to locate them.”
The controversy comes as police agencies in California and across the country have repeatedly faced scrutiny for working with neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups by shielding leaders of those organizations and arresting and prosecuting anti-fascists participating in counter demonstrations. Events organized by Trump supporters and the far right have repeatedly devolved into violent clashes in the US, with anti-fascists accusing police of using excessive force against the left. ...
Some said Berkeley’s decision to post mugshots was akin to the increasingly common rightwing tactic of “doxxing” anti-fascists, meaning publishing people’s private information online as part of an intimidation effort. By Monday morning, Fox News and other major publications had posted the photos and names.
New Charlottesville Doc Exposes Neo-Nazi Leaders & Their Ties to U.S. Military & Weapons Contractors
'Among the Biggest Grifters in American History': Wilbur Ross Accused of Stealing More Than $120 Million
As the flagrant and often downright bizarre corruption of so many current and former Trump administration officials has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, White House Commerce Secretary and mega-millionaire Wilbur Ross's long history of crooked profiteering has frequently slipped under the radar. But a deeply reported investigation published by Forbes on Tuesday—which includes the testimony of more than 20 people who previously worked with Ross in the private sector—alleges that Trump's commerce secretary could "rank among the biggest grifters in American history."
The allegations of Ross's former business associates reach far beyond the ultra-wealthy investor's alleged penchant for stealing "handfuls of Sweet'N Low packets" from restaurants and making fake pledges to charity. "Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually," Forbes notes. "But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million."
When we say allegations against Wilbur Ross ' business point to a pattern of grifting, this is what we mean. More than $120,000,000 detailed below. You may have to zoom in. pic.twitter.com/gp2qtr3YqA
— Dan Alexander (@DanAlexander21) August 7, 2018
According to David Storper, a private equity manager who worked alongside Ross at the firm WL Ross & Co, claims that Ross "stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork." Responding to the Forbes investigation on Twitter, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called Ross "a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat with no interest in anyone but himself. He has shady ties to Russia and China, serious business conflicts, and a history of cheating people out of their homes."
America’s criminal justice system summed up in two images pic.twitter.com/Gr9xjcwy8l
— Paul Gottinger (@PaulGottinger) August 7, 2018
According to financial results released yesterday, Apple spent $20.8 billion buying back its own stock in the last three months, not quite the $22.8 billion it spent in the first quarter of this year, when it set a record buying back more than any company in the history of the S&P 500. In May, Apple announced a $100 billion share repurchase program and so far in 2018 it’s tripled its share repurchases over the first half of last year. S&P 500 companies are on track to return a record $1 trillion (via buybacks and dividends) to shareholders, and Apple is leading the way.
Stock buybacks were outlawed until 1982, when the SEC changed its rules to allow companies to repurchase shares on the open market, although doing so can artificially boost the stock price. CEOs and other corporate executives benefit the most from this behavior because their compensation, unlike that of rank-and-file workers, is closely tied to stock performance. ... These actions disproportionately favor senior management and direct funds away from more productive purposes, such as corporate investment, job creation, or increased worker pay.
Minnesota Attorney General — Now Democratic Frontrunner for Governor — Relied on Government Employees for Campaign Work, They Say
Lori Swanson, Minnesota's three-term attorney general and current candidate for governor, has presided over an office culture in which professional success is linked to the willingness of employees to participate in Swanson’s campaign work, eight former and current employees of the attorney general’s office told The Intercept.
Swanson, a moderate Democrat who was first elected in 2007, has kept a remarkably low profile throughout her 11 years in office, largely avoiding crowds and close media coverage. Just last month, Minnesota Public Radio described her as “an atypically private politician who runs a tightly-controlled office and makes few public appearances.” Unlike nearly all other politicians across the country, she maintains no personal or professional presence on Twitter or Facebook. None of this is by accident, according to sources familiar with Swanson. Lawyers and other employees who have worked for her describe a highly politicized office in which burnishing Swanson’s image is a primary focus.
The lawyers and other staffers in the attorney general’s office interviewed for this article said they felt pressured to carry out tasks like stuffing envelopes for the benefit of the campaign and scheduling campaign events, sometimes during the work day. They said they felt their promotions and pay raises were based partly on participation in political campaigns. Attorneys reported foregoing basic legal work to instead correspond with constituents and defend the office’s and Swanson’s reputation in various public relations campaigns — work they said they felt was political. Multiple sources reported that these office dynamics began as early as Swanson’s first year in office and continued through this year.
It is not illegal for politicians to invite their employees to get involved with their campaigns. However, Minnesota law bars the use of “official authority or influence” to compel employees to engage in political activity.
In a big win for the City of Portland, Oregon, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a ruling that the city had not violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause by voting to ban any new fossil fuel terminals within its borders.“ This is a major victory for the climate and our communities,” said Maura Fahey, staff attorney at Crag Law Center, which represented environmental groups intervening in the case, in a statement. “Industry couldn’t even get its foot in the door of the courtroom to try to overturn the City’s landmark law. This sends a powerful message to local communities that now is the time to take action to protect our future.”
This ruling could have important implications for other communities fighting fossil fuel projects because the court ruled that the city’s ban did not violate the Commerce Clause, which is the main argument the oil industry has used against bans like the ones in Portland, Oregon and other cities. The Commerce Clause gives Congress the sole power to regulate interstate and foreign trade, and oil companies have argued that bans like the one in Portland are impacting interstate trade. With this ruling, the Oregon Court of Appeals has dealt a significant blow to that legal argument.
The Canadian tar sands industry has been looking for more ways to get its product to foreign markets, especially after the cancellation of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline to Quebec and New Brunswick and the delays in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in British Columbia. This tar sands transportation challenge has led to industry efforts across the U.S. to develop new infrastructure such as oil-by-rail terminals and pipelines in port cities. Canadian oil-by-rail exports to the U.S. just set a new record in June. As DeSmog has reported before, the oil industry has been clear about wanting to expand its options to get oil to the West Coast and port cities like Portland, Oregon.
However, serious local opposition has led to several major proposed oil-by-rail terminals being blocked on the West Coast in the past several years — including what would have been the largest such terminal in the country in Vancouver, Washington. This new ruling in Oregon appears to be a path for other port cities to issue a blanket ban on new oil infrastructure projects instead of having to fight them on a project-by-project basis. And cities have been doing just that.
Human rights advocates and union workers are celebrating as Baltimore is poised to become the first major American city to amend its charter to bar privatization of the public water system.
Baltimore's City Council on Monday approved a charter amendment that deems the water supply and sewer systems "inalienable," and prohibits the sale or lease of the systems. The vote was nearly unanimous—one council member reportedly recused herself and another was absent.
"Access to clean and affordable water should be looked at as a basic human right," asserted City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who waived council rules to fast-track the vote. "I have always been a proponent of retaining our city's assets, which is why I am completely opposed to the privatization of Baltimore's water system."
The amendment must be signed by Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh—who has expressed her support for it—by Aug. 13 before residents get the final say through a ballot measure vote in November.
The council's move on Monday came as a loud retort to years of lobbying by corporations interested in Baltimore's water system—including the French company Suez Environment, which spent several weeks of last year pitching a takeover to city officials. Human rights advocates have fiercely opposed the privatization proposals.
Governor Jerry Brown must allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Can be used for fires, farming and everything else. Think of California with plenty of Water - Nice! Fast Federal govt. approvals.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2018
California’s biggest wildfire on record is expected to burn for the rest of the month, fire officials said on Tuesday, as hot and windy conditions challenged thousands of fire crews battling eight major blazes burning out of control across the state.
The Mendocino Complex grew to span 1,176 sq km (454 sq miles) by Tuesday morning, with barely a third of it contained since two wildfires merged at the southern tip of the Mendocino national forest, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.
It is the largest of eight major fires burning out of control across California, prompting Donald Trump to declare a “major disaster” in the state. On Monday, twin fires north of San Francisco burning just miles apart became the largest collective wildfire in state history after destroying more than 1,147 sq km (443 sq miles) of forest and rural land across an area nearly the size of Los Angeles. ...
Temperatures could reach 43C (110F) in northern California over the next few days, with winds fanning the flames of the complex, a National Weather Service meteorologist said.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Aretha Franklin - Think
Aretha Franklin - Rock Steady
Aretha Franklin - Something He Can Feel
Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
Aretha Franklin - Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Aretha Franklin - Just Right Tonight
Aretha Franklin - Since You've Been Gone (Sweet, Sweet Baby)
Aretha Franklin - Dr. Feelgood
Aretha Franklin - Spirit In The Dark
Aretha Franklin - Chain Of Fools
Aretha Franklin - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction